Vladimiro Montesinos Torres was the head of the national intelligence service in Peru from 1990-2000 and special advisor to President Alberto Fujimori. During the Fujimori presidency he directed human rights abuses, and ran a sort of mafia that controlled the media, government, and large business. He was wanted for crimes including fraud, money laundering, drug and arms trafficking, extorsion, illegal wiretapping, torture, murder and many others. In effect, he had almost complete control of the Peruvian government for roughly a decade. He was arrested in late 2000 in Caracas, Venezuela.

He was born in Arequipa, Peru in 1946 and trained at the US School of the Americas. In 1966 he graduated from the Peruvian Military School of Chorillos, becoming an army captain and working as an intelligence operative for the Sistema Nacional de Inteligencia. In 1976 he was charged with selling state secrets to the CIA, and was discharged from the army the next year.

He became a lawyer, collecting a fortune representing drug traffickers and police linked to drug trafficking. He was tried in 1983 by a military court for treason (he was accused of attempting a military coup with an underground newspaper) and acquitted. He defended then presidential candidate Fujimori in 1990 against accusations of real estate fraud. The charges were quietly dropped and paperwork for the case went missing.

Montesinos' Grupo Colina was found to be responsible for the Barrios Altos massacre, in which 15 people were killed in November 1991. In July 1992, 9 students and a professor at La Cantuta University were abducted by security forces (also found later to be Grupo Colina) and later murdered. The case was moved from civilian to military courts, with no justice being served.

The CIA supplied Montesinos with at least $10 million from 1990 to 2000 as well as surveillance equipment. He made an arms deal with the leftist FARC rebels in Colombia, basically diverting the funds to the group that the CIA is fighting in their unsuccessful War on Drugs. The CIA then released hundreds of videotapes in which Montesinos was seen paying off politicians, journalists and business leaders, which led to his arrest and Fujimori's resignation.


CIA sins

While Peru's disgraced former spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos awaits trial in a maximum security jail in Lima, it has emerged that millions of dollars donated by the United States' Central Intelligence Agency not only helped him amass a small personal fortune, but was also responsible for one of the most embarrassing espionage debacles of recent years.

Skimming off money that the CIA intended for use in Peru's anti-drug trafficking efforts, Montesinos set up a major arms deal in the Middle East that funnelled 10,000 AK47 rifles to left-wing FARC guerrillas in Colombia, thereby fomenting the very uprising that America has pledged $1.3 bn to stamp out.

FARC has transformed itself from a Marxist insurgency group trying to seize power in Colombia into a quasi-drug cartel, making millions from the drug smugglers who operate under their protection.

Bill Clinton's administration decided it was worth investing spectacular amounts of cash to help the Colombian government stamp out the guerrillas and thus leave the smugglers unprotected.

At first, Montesinos looked as if he could be a significant asset in the US fight against both Communism and the drugs trade. In the mid-1970s, while an officer in the Peruvian army, he came to the US to show the CIA evidence of Soviet arms deals with Peru. It was enough to get him on the agency's payroll.

Montesinos rose to become spymaster for the controversial former president of Peru, Albert Fujimori, himself now being sought on suspicion of human rights violations.

Throughout the 1990s the flow of money became a torrent, the stated intention being to help Peru fight the trans-Andean drug trade.

But after years of little or no oversight over how the cash was spent, Montesinos started turning the money to his own ends. He was, according to prosecutors, also guilty of flagrant human rights violations against political opponents, including murder.

The CIA was well aware of his actions but did little to rein Montesinos in. The CIA had not banked on Montesinos' double-dealing. According to Peruvian prosecutors he was also taking protection money from drug traffickers, which joined a stream of corrupt cash that amassed him a fortune close to $264 million.

The CIA decided to call a halt when the FARC arms deal demonstrated conclusively that he had gone too far.

Montesinos became a fugitive in October 2000 and was captured at the end of last month by Venezuelan agents in Caracas.

Today Montesinos is on hunger strike in protest against being held in the same jail, one he actually designed, as many of his former enemies.

If found guilty, the ex-spymaster faces the rest of his life in prison (hat at least would ease the CIA's embarrassment.)

But in the US, the CIA's involvement in the Montesinos case has raised barely a ripple of comment.

Source: This w/u was first time published by Nick Peters in the Washington Post, by August, 1997. A reprinted copyright free version can be read at http://www.commondreams.org/headlines01/0708-03.htm.

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